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DAWNS.live – watching the sun rise

Last week thousands of people from across the UK got up early and snuggled with their tea and toast to watch the dawn break to live music.

It was all part of an event that Heritage Open Days and the National Trust delivered with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, and marked the first national event outside of the annual free programme. © John Hunter

The mass participation artwork was devised by interactive theatre makers, non zero one in collaboration with composer James Bulley. James is a composer and sound artist whose practice explores natural systems, locative sound, and site-specific sound installation. The original live music score, inspired by the break of day and created in collaboration with five musicians, was performed and streamed online to accompany the sunrise across the UK.

A narrator began as the first morning light hit John O’Groats in Scotland at 3.43am. She explained how daylight would sweep across the landscape from north-east to south-west and encouraged us to find an anchor point in our view; something against which we could gauge the changing light and colours of the sky.

The original plan was for the five musicians to be based at special sites within each time zone, beginning to play their part as dawn reached them. Lockdown made this unworkable so we had to rethink. Instead, the musicians played from their homes, but were still twinned with their original location to play as the light moved across the land.

The line up went like this:

  • Dawn zone 1 - Cat Harrison, narrator, twinned with John O’Groats, 3.43-4.06am
  • Dawn zone 2 - Daniel Pioro, violin, twinned with Old Coastguard Station, Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire, 4.07-4.15am
  • Dawn zone 3 - Laura Cannell, overbowed violin and double recorder, twinned with Platform Leeds, West Yorkshire, 4.16am-4.24am
  • Dawn zone 4 - Manu Delago, handpans, twinned with Mussenden Temple, Northern Ireland, 4.25am-4.37am
  • Dawn zone 5 - Huw Warren, piano, twinned with Dyffryn Gardens, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, 4.38-4.49am
  • Dawn zone 6 - Ruth Wall, harp, twinned with Gribbin Daymark, Gribbin Head, Fowey, Cornwall, 4.49-4.59am

It’s a great example as to how the physical can be made digital. DAWNS used streaming technology to allow listeners to tune in to the broadcast wherever they were and experience a connection to others around the country and beyond, with over 7000 people taking part, and stretching as far afield as Tokyo and Canada. As well as a chance to wake up early and experience something new, it was an opportunity to explore themes of togetherness, difference, nature and light at this challenging time.

"I really mean it when I say that was absolutely beautiful. I loved every second. It was a welcome relief to be taken away from my phone and into the moment. I feel connected to the country at a time that I have never felt so far away." DAWNS participant

Many people were able to take part in something with family members or friends who they hadn’t been able to spend time with over recent weeks, coming together digitally to experience a very visceral and emotional experience. Showing the power of heritage and culture to connect people, even at challenging times.

Annie's view of dawn in Southampton

“The sweep of morning light from Northeast to Southwest; music; connection to nature; and a shared experience for people at disparate locations across the country. Those were always the elements at the heart of our DAWNS project. The current pandemic meant we couldn’t, as we’d hoped, host the event at our places or encourage gatherings to experience it. However, as the crisis worsened and our lives changed drastically, it became apparent that not only could we still deliver those core elements, but we had the chance to deliver something that met the needs of people now in ways we couldn’t have conceived of back in early March,” Annie Reilly, Head of Producing at National Trust

We asked people to submit their own photos from a specific moment during the experience, which are being built into a digital collage artwork. A stunning visual reminder of what was a magical experience.

Find out more

  • For more detail, including snippets of the music check out Dawns.live
  • Discover more about dawn in general, from birdsong to stunning images and an answer to why the sky goes red, with the National Trust’s piece on Dawns to brighten your day
  • DAWNS was our first foray into contributing to a project outside our festival dates but we’ve done some creative pieces before, check out our Unsung Stories work – from creating a diamond ring out of love letters, to crafting dream clouds! And one of those projects was done with non zero one - the beautiful put her forward  that honoured the extraordary women in our local communities today.

About Francesca Baker

Francesca is co- Head of Communications for Heritage Open Days. She brings 12 years of experience in marketing and communications to the festival, along with bags of enthusiasm and big smiles!